Executive Edge

The market's weekly winners and losers

By Jeff Brown, Special to CNBC.com

Who made this week's list?

Justin Poliachik | Flickr | Getty Images

Time for CNBC's Executive Edge tally of weekly market winners and losers.

What did it take to make the list this week?

Well, you could be a weekend warrior praying for snow, a retailer whose customers went up in flames or an unnoticed American with yo-yo finances. Being a woman could get you on the list this week—twice. And you might be here if you pump black gold or sell skintight clothes.

By Jeff Brown, Special to CNBC.com

Winner: GM shareholders

Mary Barra
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Who'd have thought 30 or 40 years ago that in 2013 we'd still be seeing stories about the "first woman to ..."? But we are. General Motors this week named Mary Barra as its first female CEO. Barra, 51, is a three-decade GM vet who already was the highest-ranking woman in the U.S. auto industry. She currently serves as executive vice president of global product development and will take over Jan. 15 from Dan Akerson.

The biggest winner of all—other than Barra—may be GM shareholders, The government has just finished selling the last of its shares in the automaker, which is recovering nicely from its crisis a few years ago. Barra is known for pressing GM to stop making "crappy cars" and to streamline its product lines around the world.


"This is the beginning of what could be a big dividend cycle. GM has done so many right things. They have so much momentum around the globe and in the United States."—CNBC's Jim Cramer

Loser: Wal-Mart

Getty Images

If you sell a product made by someone else, are you at fault if something goes wrong? Wal-Mart this week agreed to contribute $25 million to a fund for settling suits by buyers injured from exploding gasoline cans. Plaintiffs say Wal-Mart should have done something. But how could the world's biggest retailer test every product it sells?

It couldn't. But the key to the plaintiffs' case is their charge that Wal-Mart should have acted once the first lawsuits alerted it to problems with the cans. A Wal-Mart buyer testified that even after being named a defendant in a gas can suit, Wal-Mart did not test the cans or use its power to demand changes.


"If you repeatedly are sued in cases and the allegations are [that] people are being severely burned or burning to death, you can't hide your head in the sand. You're making money off of those cans."—plaintiffs' attorney Diane Breneman

Winner: Hewlett-Packard

Meg Whitman
Jacob Kepler | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The age of desktop computers is not over? You're kidding, right?

Well, that's what Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman said, and after presiding over a 90 percent share gain this year, she's got to be taken seriously. Whitman argues that desktops are still attractive to businesses. Of course, Whitman has to hope HP's desktops keep selling, as the firm has no smartphone and trails competitors in tablets. Whitman said HP is working on a combination laptop/tablet as it struggles to close the gap with competitors like Apple.


"HP is coming back, and it's coming back strong."—HP's CEO, Meg Whitman

Loser: Lululemon Athletica

A sign hangs on a Lululemon Athletica on December 10, 2013 in Miami, Florida.
Getty Images

Lululemom Athletica—which can't seem to get any pose right lately—warned Thursday of flat same-store sales, sending the shares on a double-digit plunge. The warning came as the Canadian maker of yoga clothing beat expectations for third-quarter earnings.

The company has had a variety of stumbles, such as selling see-through pants, supply-chain snags and, just this week, having to demote a chairman who said dissatisfied customers had fat thighs.


"The guidance—it's clearly a source of concern. Flat comps suggest there's been a change in consumer demand for the product."—Credit Suisse analyst Christian Buss

Winner: Hedge funds

Chris Price | E+ | Getty Images

Hedge fund investors can leave you scratching your head. Overall, these funds have had a lackluster year, gaining about 12 percent vs. the S&P 500's 27 percent, yet new money keeps . Investments under management for the $2.7 trillion industry grew by $360 billion this year.

So why are investors still betting on hedge funds? Some industry experts cite a change in attitudes, with investors now focusing on long-term dependability, not stupendous gains. The funds are also offering more variations tailored to institutional investors, which now account for 66 percent of assets—the highest ever.


"Now they are not seen just being for humungous 20 percent–plus returns, but for smaller, stable returns over many years."—Amy Bensted, head of hedge funds at Preqin

Loser: Budget skiers

Jupiterimages | Stockbyte | Getty Images

The ski industry continually gets more upscale, discouraging people from taking up the sport. With the season just getting under way, skiers who don't shop ahead may be shocked at lift tickets costing more than $100 a day.

Last year 54 percent of "skier visits"—one skier or snowboarder for one day—were from households earning more than $100,000, up from 48 percent five years ago. And the median age of skiers was 38, up from 34 a decade ago, indicating that new skiers are not being created fast enough to replace old ones. Last year's total skier visits trailed the 10-year average.


"You have the haves and the have-mores."—Douglas Quinby, principal analyst at travel research firm PhoCusWright

Winner: U.S. oil exporters

Paul Souders | Stone | Getty Images

Exporting crude oil from the U.S. to Canada sounds like, well, taking coal to Newcastle. But it happens, even though Canada is the top supplier of crude to the U.S. Not only does it happen, business is booming. In the latest fiscal year, the U.S. government issued 103 export licenses to ship crude to other countries—all but about a dozen of them for shipments to Canada. The figure was 66 in 2012.

The reason is, huge production gains due to the shale boom in states such as Texas, coupled with restrictions on coastal tanker traffic to U.S. refineries. Light Louisiana sweet crude sells at a discount from Brent, the global benchmark, making U.S. crude attractive in Eastern Canada, which is far from the country's own oil fields.

Loser: Snores on a plane

Sam Diephuis | The Image Bank | Getty Images

Road warriors take note: If you plan to catch a few Z's on the plane, set an alarm. A Louisiana man woke up after landing in Los Angeles on Friday to find everyone else was, well, gone. Trapped in a dark, locked cabin, he could get no one's attention. He tried calling his girlfriend, but when she notified the airline, her tale was dismissed as impossible because crews routinely sweep the cabin before closing shop. The frazzled flier was released when a maintenance crew showed up, but faced some suspicious questioning for not having a security badge. United offered $250 and a hotel room as the booby prize, and ExpressJet, which operated the flight for United, vowed to get to the bottom of things.


"I just don't know how it happened. I really don't. I mean, passengers get off, you'd think somebody would have rubbed me or pushed me and said, 'Hey, buddy, we're here.'"—United passenger Tom Wagner

Loser: Homeowners

Kirby Hamilton | E+ | Getty Images

The U.S. residential real estate market has been on a big rebound, but there is reason for Main Street residents to frown. Sure, more homeowners have moved up from being underwater and are able to sell homes now at a reasonable value and foreclosures are at a six-year low, but—yes, but—things are getting worse, not better, for many borrowers who took out home-equity lines of credit early in the past decade. There has been an 11 percent increase this year in the number of loans becoming seriously delinquent after reaching the amortization period.

And for prospective home buyers, if you're hoping for another shot at those record low mortgage rates, don't hold your breath. Barring a huge surprise, there's not much chance we'll see 3.5 percent mortgage rates anytime soon—certainly not in 2014, according to CNBC's real estate reporter Diana Olick.

Other predictions: Prices will rise, but not at this year's 12 percent pace; rents will continue to rise, and investors will continue to be big players in the rebound.


"Despite the return of home sales, renter nation should continue throughout 2014, as younger Americans and first-time home buyers are still left out of the recovery."—CNBC's real estate reporter Diana Olick

Winner or loser? You decide: Stock investors

William Andrew | Photographer's Choice RF | Getty Images

Ever heard of the "pre-announcement ratio?" You're about to, because it's flashing yellow for the stock market.

For every 10 companies warning of lower-than-expected profits for the fourth quarter, less than one says it will beat forecasts. The 10.4-to-1 ratio is significantly worse than the previous record of 6.8 in the first quarter of 2001. The long-term average is 2.3 negative warnings for every positive.

While this sounds horrible, Wall Streeters have several reasons for telling themselves it's not as bad as it seems: Forecasts have already been cut, CEOs are being hypercautious these days, profits will probably grow, and so on.


"This is off the charts; I've never seen it this high."—Gregory Harrison, analyst at Thomson Reuters

Winner or loser? You decide: Women in the workplace

Thomas Barwick | Getty Images

Yes, GM has a female CEO, but do the women in your firm feel they're getting a fair shake? Chances are they do, even though most women believe gender discrimination remains a problem in the workplace. The disconnect may demonstrate the power of personal experience versus the stubbornness of general perceptions.

A Pew Research Center report finds that 60 percent of millennial women—aged 18 to 32—believe men earn more than women for the same work. A majority also believe it's easier for men to get executive positions. But only 15 percent said they'd been discriminated against at work because of gender, and few reported witnessing discrimination at their own workplaces. At Fortune 500 firms, women hold 16.9 percent of board seats and 14.6 percent of executive positions.


"Millennial women were just as likely as older generations of women to have these general perceptions of inequality in the workplace. ... Most people said, 'It's not like that at my workplace.' There was sort of a real disconnect there."—Kim Parker, director of social trends research at Pew Research Center